艾未未 + 艾青 : Ai Weiwei + Ai Qing: “Without movement there is no Life…We should use our energy to the fullest.”

ZP_Ai Weiwei_Grapes_2010

The retrospective exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? opens today at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. Ai Weiwei (born 1957) is China’s most famous – or infamous – depending on your weltanschauung – contemporary artist. Currently without a passport and not permitted to leave China, Ai Weiwei has, with a team of energetic workers, fashioned bold sculptures from humble stools, bicycles, firewood, compacted tea leaves – even rusty lengths of rebar.

“Straight” consists of several thousand sections of rebar salvaged – then straightened out – from 2008 earthquake rubble of collapsed buildings that killed 5000 schoolchildren – a horrific event – combined with shoddy “tofu” architecture – that Chinese authorities tried to downplay but which Ai Weiwei sought to memorialize. David Jager, in the August 15th issue of Toronto’s NOW magazine, writes: “Every element of the sculpture, from process to material to final form [ an undulating moraine with a rift through it ] expresses Ai’s deep desire to reshape a hopelessly corrupt and tangled situation. Knowing that the bodies of the earthquake victims were once trapped within the sculptural material makes as visceral an impact as seeing a pile of shoes from Auschwitz. This is what art is supposed to do.”

Whether he is letting drop and smash a Han dynasty urn, or starring, with shaved head and red rosebud lips, in the “music video” Dumbass – about his 2011 jail experience – Ai Weiwei provokes us and respects our intelligence.

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Ai Qing (pen name of Jiang Haicheng, 1910-1996) was Ai Weiwei’s father, and a notable poet of the Mao Zedong era in China. In his early 20s Ai Qing was imprisoned for two years for opposing the Kuomintang;   in 1957 he was sent to a hard-labour camp for criticizing his government in print;  he spent the next twenty-plus years emptying latrines and so forth as part of his “mental correction” for Wrong Thought under Mao.  We feature here a selection of Ai Qing’s poems…

.     .     .

“Wall”

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A wall is like a knife

It slices a city in half

One half is on the east

The other half is on the west

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How tall is this wall?

How thick is it?

How long is it?

Even if it were taller, thicker and longer

It couldn’t be as tall, as thick and as long

As China’s Great Wall

It is only a vestige of history

A nation’s wound

Nobody likes this wall

.

Three metres tall is nothing

Fifty centimetres thick is nothing

Forty-five kilometres long is nothing

Even a thousand times taller

Even a thousand times thicker

Even a thousand times longer

How could it block out

The clouds, wind, rain, and sunshine of the heavens?

.

And how could it block out

The currents of water and air?

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And how could it block out

A billion people

Whose thoughts are freer than the wind?

Whose will is more entrenched than the earth?

Whose wishes are more infinite than time?

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(1979)

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Wall_part 1_Ai QingWall_part 2_Ai Qing

.     .     .

“Trees”

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One tree, another tree,

Each standing alone and erect.

The wind and air

Tell their distance apart.

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But beneath the cover of earth

Their roots reach out

And at depths that cannot be seen

The roots of the trees intertwine.

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(1940)

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Trees_Ai Qing

.     .     .

“Fish Fossil”

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With such agility in your movements,

Such buoyancy in your strength,

You leapt in the foam

And swam in the sea.

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Unfortunately, a volcano’s eruption

Or perhaps an earthquake

Cost you your freedom

And buried you in the silt.

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After millions of years

Members of a geological team

Found you in a layer of rock

And you still look alive.

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But you are now silent,

Without even a sigh.

Your scales and fins are whole

But you cannot move.

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So absolutely motionless,

You have no reaction to the world.

You cannot see the water or the sky,

You cannot hear the sound of the waves.

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Gazing at this fossil,

Even a fool can learn a lot:

Without movement

There is no life.

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To live is to struggle

And advance in the struggle;

Even if death is not at our doorstep,

We should use our energy to the fullest.

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Fish Fossil_part 1_Ai QingFish Fossil_part 2_Ai Qing

.     .     .

“Hope”

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Dream’s friend

Illusion’s sister

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Originally your shadow

Yet always in front of you

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As formless as light

As restless as wind

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Between you and her

She keeps her distance always

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Like flying birds outside the window

Like floating clouds in the sky

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Like butterflies by the river

She is sly and lovely

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When you rise, she flies away

You ignore her, and she nudges you

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She is always with you

To your dying breath.

.     .     .

ZP_Ai Qing_Hope_part 1ZP_Ai Qing_Hope_part 2

Ai Weiwei dropping a Han Dynasty urn

“Coal’s Reply”

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Where do you live?

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I live in ten thousand years of steep mountain

I live in ten thousand years of crag-rock

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And your age?

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My age is greater than the mountain’s

Greater than the crag-rock’s

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How long have you been silenced?

Since the dinosaurs governed the earth

Since the earth felt its first tremor

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Have you perished in this deep rancour and bitterness?

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Death? No, no, I’m still alive

Please, give me a light, give me a light.

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(1937)

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Coal's Reply_Ai Qing

.     .    .

Translations from the Chinese:  Chen Eoyang, Peng Wenlan, and Marilyn Chin

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Tricia Postle: Poema (“ya está bien – bastante”) / Poem (“that’s enough of that”)

ZP_En el patio del fondo los girasoles se inclinan hacia adelante...

En el patio del fondo los girasoles se inclinan hacia adelante

Tarde de noche, de la puerta, están llamados por sus nombres

los gatos, y yo, jadeante, deduzco que la parcela vallada está

desocupada, la ventana del lado de la casa no tiene indicio de

la camisa amarilla de él, su cuerpo delgado comportando como

pesa de plomo después de su labor del día

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Lleno de contradicciones, una criatura absurda

más o menos encontrándome contra las cuerdas,

unas diecisiete diferentes,

Ansio el paraíso de la compasión, de la condolencia,

y “ya está bien – bastante”

.     .     .

The sunflowers lean heavy in the yard

late at night, the cats are called by name

from the door, and breathless I gather

that the yard is empty, the side window

of the house holds no sign of his

yellow shirt, his slim body

carried heavily after a day’s work

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Full of contradictions, an absurd

creature more or less at the end

of seventeen different ropes

I long for the paradise

of sympathy, condolence,

and “that’s enough of that”

 

 

.     .     .

Tricia Postle es músico y cantante.   A ella le interesa la gran variedad musical del mundo, incluso el cancionero occitano, la ópera / la zarzuela, y las canciones exquisitas de Reynaldo Hahn. También toca el “kanun” y ha cantado en una banda “steam-punk”.

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Gregory Porter: “Somos pintados sobre un lienzo ” / “Painted on canvases”

ZP_Romare Bearden 1911 - 1988_Morning of the Rooster_1980ZP_Romare Bearden (1911-1988)_Morning of the Rooster_1980

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Gregory Porter (Cantante/compositor de jazz, nacido en 1971, EE.UU.)

Somos pintados sobre un lienzo

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Somos como niños

Somos pintados sobre un lienzo

logrando los tonos mientras pasamos

Empezamos con el “gesso”

puesto con pinteles por la gente que conocemos

Sea esmerado con la técnica mientras avanza

Se aleja para admirar mi vista

¿Puedo usar los colores que yo elijo?

¿Tengo algo que decir sobre lo que usted usa?

¿Puedo conseguir colores verde y colores azul?

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Somos hechos del pigmento de pintura que se aplica

Nuestras historias son dichos por nuestros tonos

Como Motley y Bearden

Estos maestros de la paz, de la vida,

Hay capas de colores, del tiempo

Se aleja para admirar mi vista

¿Puedo usar los colores que yo elijo?

¿Tengo algo que decir sobre lo que usted usa?

¿Puedo conseguir unos verde y unos azul?

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Somos como niños

Somos pintados sobre una gama de lienzos…

 

ZP_Archibald John Motley 1891-1981_Self Portrait_1933ZP_Archibald John Motley (1891-1981)_Self Portrait_1933

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Gregory Porter (born 1971, American jazz vocalist/songwriter)

Painted on canvases”

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We are like children
we’re painted on canvases
picking up shades as we go
We start off with “gesso”
brushed on by people we know
Watch your technique as you go
Step back and admire my view
Can I use the colours I choose?
Do I have some say what you use?
Can I get some greens and some blues?

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We’re made by the pigment of paint that is put upon
Our stories are told by our hues
Like Motley and Bearden
these masters of peace and life
layers of colours and time
Step back and admire my view
Can I use the colours I choose?
Do I have some say what you use?
Can I get some greens and some blues?

.
We are like children
We’re painted on canvases…

.     .     .     .     .


Maria Bethânia canta letras de Carlos Bahr & Adriana Calcanhotto / Maria Bethânia sings lyrics by Carlos Bahr & Adriana Calcanhotto

ZP_Maria Bethania_1967ZP_Maria Bethânia (born 1946), shown here at the age of 21, is a Brazilian singer and sister of Caetano Veloso

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Sin” / “Pecado
Composer / Compositor:  Carlos Bahr (Tango lyricist / Letrista de tango, 1902-1984, Buenos Aires, Argentina), with / con: Armando Pontier & Enrique Francini

As sung by / Cantada por:  Maria Bethânia (from her album / de su álbum Pássaro Proibido, 1976)

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I know not

whether this is forbidden;

if there’ll be forgiveness;

or if I’ll be carried to the brink of the abyss.

All that I know:

This is Love.

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I know not

whether this Love is a sin;

if punishment awaits;

or if it disrespects all the decent laws

of humankind and of God.

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All that I know:  it’s a Love which stuns my Life

like a whirlwind;   and

that I crawl, yes crawl, straight to your arms

in a blind passion.

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And This is stronger than I am, than my Life,

my beliefs, my sense of duty.

It’s even stronger within me than

the fear of God.

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Though it may be sin – how I want you,

yes, I want you all the same.

And even if everyone denies me that right,

I will seize hold of this Love.

 

.     .     .

 

Yo no sé
Si es prohibido
Si no tiene perdón
Si me lleva al abismo
Sólo se que es amor
.
Yo no sé
Si este amor es pecado
Si tiene castigo
Si es faltar a las leyes honradas
Del hombre y de Dios
.
Sólo sé que me aturde la vida
Como un torbellino
Que me arrastra y me arrastra a tus brazos
En ciega pasión
.
Es más fuerte que yo que mi vida
Mi credo y mi sino
Es más fuerte que todo el respeto
Y el temor a Dios
.
Aunque sea pecado te quiero
Te quiero lo mismo
Aunque todo me niegue el derecho
Me aferro a este amor.

.     .     .

 

After having you” / “Depois de ter você ”

Composer / Composição:  Adriana Calcanhotto (born in / nascida em 1965, Porto Alegre, Brasil)

As sung by / Cantada por:   Maria Bethânia (from her album / em seu álbum Maricotinha, 2001)

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After having you,

What reason is there to think of time,

how many hours have passed or remain?

If it’s night or if it’s warm out,

If we’re in summertime;

If the sun will show its face or not?

Or even what reason might a song like this serve?

After knowing you

Poets? what’s the use of them?

Or of Gods – What purpose Doubts?

Almond trees along the streets,

even the very streets themselves –

After having had You?

.     .     .

 

Depois de ter você,
Para que querer saber que horas são?
Se é noite ou faz calor,
Se estamos no verão,
Se o sol virá ou não,
Ou pra que é que serve uma canção como essa?
Depois de ter você, poetas para quê?
Os deuses, as dúvidas,
Para que amendoeiras pelas ruas?
Para que servem as ruas?
Depois de ter você.

 

 
.     .     .

Traducción/interpretación en inglés / Translation-interpretation from Spanish into English:   Alexander Best

Tradução/interpretação em inglês / Translation-interpretation from Portuguese into English:  Alexander Best

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ZP_Maria Bethania_2010ZP_Maria Bethânia in 2010

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Atwood, Kiguli, Carver: Mildred K. Barya compares three poems about photographs

ZP_Mamie Estelle Fearing Scurlock with bouquet_1910_photographer Addison ScurlockZP_Mamie Estelle Fearing Scurlock with bouquet_1910_photographer Addison Scurlock

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ZP Guest Editor Mildred K. Barya:

Three poets / Three photographs

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In this piece I’m comparing and contrasting three poems by three poets that have a lot in common: “This is a Photograph of Me” by Margaret Atwood (Canada), “My Mother in Three Photographs” by Susan Kiguli (Uganda), and “Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year” by Raymond Carver (USA).

What I appreciate most is how these three poets/poems deal with perception, memory, reality and imagination against a backdrop of history, society, and culture. The passage of time and sense of place provide interesting points of view.

In Atwood’s poem, in the first stanza, we are not given the exact time the photograph was taken. We only know it’s in the past: It was taken some time ago. At a glance, the appearance is distorted, and seems to merge with the paper:

At first it seems to be

a smeared

print: blurred lines and grey flecks

blended with the paper;

Kiguli’s first stanza is a clear description of what the mother’s face in the photograph looks like, her poise, enigmatic aura, sexual energy and charm.

Her face looks out

flawless

her sexuality electric.

We are also told what she’s wearing, it’s the 1960s, and she’s full of dreams and longing of the individual and collective nation. An ethereal creature that’s here and beyond, not as “ghostly” as Atwood’s woman, but equally mystifying.

In a mini dress and sheer satin stockings

the girls of the 1960s

beautiful beyond belief.

She is looking through the camera

like her space is here and beyond

enchanting and enchanted

by the times when dreams of freedom were young

the fortunes of Uganda

hot and sizzling.


So here we have what we can see through our tactile and perceptible quality. There’s also something corporeal and ethereal at the same time. This is also true of Atwood’s message in her first stanza.

Carver’s first stanza provides clear setting and time. October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen. Right away we feel a strangeness—something chilly that comes with October and a dank, unfamiliar kitchen. In ideal or normal circumstances, one’s kitchen ought to be a cozy, familiar place, but not Carver’s kitchen. Then the father’s face is described, what is, and the appearance of what’s expected:

I study my father’s embarrassed young man’s face.
Sheepish grin, he holds in one hand a string
of spiny yellow perch, in the other
a bottle of Carlsbad Beer.

In short, the three poets in their first stanzas are portraying what is [appearance] along with specific expectations and representations. The first image is hazy, affected by the imbalance of light and dark so one can say it appears oppressed even. The second captures the Sixties imagination: freedom, excitement, revolution, dreams, women’s power and so on. The last, what it means to be a [macho] man: able to fish and drink beer.

Moving on to Atwood’s second stanza, other things appear in the picture upon close inspection. To the left is something like a branch of a tree, to the right, something like a house. What can we make of these symbols appearing when we are looking at a face, a woman?

then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

I would say a tree is productive and branches on to produce other trees, being on the left side where rationalism dwells, brain-wise. What the mind says you are. To the right, realm of intuition and heart field, we have a house, a vessel, which can be the embodiment of this face. Therefore we can say it’s the face that’s both tree and house, what’s inside manifesting outside. One can go deeper into feminist and patriarchal interpretations while trying to figure out what these symbols might mean culturally, how they get to replace a person, or we can stay with the intellectual and spiritual interpretations that can be applied universally. Your mind will tell you you’re one thing, your heart, another. People too; history, society, governments, ideologies, and so on will try to define you. To find the true you, you have to view all the perspectives and hope that by going through the labels, definitions, and constructions tagged on you, you might disappear inside yourself and come up with the real you on the other side.

It’s the 1970s in Kiguli’s second stanza. The face or body that was electric is now somber. Times are harsh although gentle on this woman. Instead of the mini dress the body is covered all the way to the ankles, the confident look replaced by sorrow. We learn that she’s also widowed, not of natural causes but government action, and the dress is imposed on her by the government of Idi Amin, which forbade women from wearing mini skirts. In very few words, so much history is packed in this personal stanza.

My mother in the 1970s
More sombre but her skin
Still flawless
The abrasive years gentle on her youth.
Her body wrapped in a long nylon dress
stopping her ankles and
full sleeves touching her wrists
hooded sorrow in her posture
the flowing dress
is not because
she is a widow (which is by government action)
but it is a government decree.
Her magnificence and elegance
Seem to support the given name of the dress
Amin nvaako.

In Carver’s second stanza, we discover what the person would like to be [but isn’t], what he wanted to be all his life. We have 1934, time of the Great Depression, WWII close on its heels. Like Kiguli’s and Atwood’s second stanzas, something grave has happened, the brave individual is disappearing in the struggles of history, and dreams are being squashed by the nation. Melancholy has replaced radiance, a new identity has emerged.

In jeans and denim shirt, he leans
against the front fender of a 1934 Ford.
He would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity,
Wear his old hat cocked over his ear.
All his life my father wanted to be bold.

What would be Atwood’s last stanza before the parentheses reveals other things in the background, a lake and low hills.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

Here we can assume the person is completely gone. Perhaps not to end on a sad note, Atwood introduces in parentheses a chunk letting us know where the person is, where the photograph was taken, and how we might find her if we look closely.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the centre
of the picture, just under the surface

Drowning is a key metaphor that can be used strategically so it’s neither good nor bad. More like dying in order to live. She’s submerged and in the centre [of all things?]

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.

In these last three lines, it seems after all that her disappearance is not an act of conformity but survival. It is necessary, and to know the difference is wisdom. Besides, isn’t it right to say that things of beauty and truth require one to dig deeper and longer in order to see the value or the self? We have something complex going on as the photograph obscures and reveals at the same time.

Kiguli’s last stanza is the 1990s. The mother wears a traditional dress, busuuti, which is also recognized as a formal, cultural and national dress. She has found peace, however uncertain, and is ready to pass on the future.

My mother in the 1990s
neat short hair
luring in its intricate curls.
She wears a busuuti
a sign of the times
a return home, a finding of
uncertain peace
a maturing of a woman and nation
an endorsement of a recognition of the troubles
she has weathered
a sitting down to count her losses and blessings
and a handover of the future.

In spite of the sadness, losses, changes, diffusion and pain, there’s no regret, tone-wise. What has happened has happened, what is, is, and what will be will be. This is the claim of reality, what endures. How the individual, cultural and national icon come together and are embodied in as simple a metaphor as a dress.

Like Atwood’s last stanza, the conformity is an act of survival. Beneath it all the person still lives. The personal is so blended with the public/national you cannot see one without the other, you cannot appreciate or celebrate one without the other getting in the way. Also, what starts as personal—Kiguli’s “mother” and Atwood’s “I”—takes on the representation of every woman of those times. Just like Carver’s “father” might symbolize every father then.

In Carver’s last stanza, we have what the father is in real life as opposed to the “bluff and hearty” appearance in the picture.

But the eyes give him away, and the hands
that limply offer the string of dead perch
and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you,
yet how can I say thank you, I who can’t hold my liquor either,
and don’t even know the places to fish?

There’s the importance placed by society on males who must teach their sons how to fish and also hold their liquor. What happens when they don’t conform? The contrast here is that unlike the women/mothers (in Atwood and Kiguli’s poems) who might be killed if they don’t conform, the males/fathers get away with it, and are still loved. This is where society’s double standards come in.

From the gender perspective, the saddest thing perhaps is that in the poems, the women were all those confident things that had to be submerged, while Carver’s “father” was never all those bold poses to begin with. In the end, the emotional punch line in all the poems is in the lack of fulfillment of dreams, no matter how false or genuine their premise.

All three poems recognize that a person is a product of both the individual’s and society’s failures, struggles and successes. In spite of disappointments and frustrations, love remains—for Carver—it is what conquers however dismal the person is. For Atwood, it is the discovery of the true self within the drowning, understanding why sometimes one has to appear as a smear on the surface, the real tiger or lion beneath. For Kiguli, it is the resilience and maturity that comes to surface, the hard times lived through, and how one may count both blessings and losses.

Mildred K. Barya

.     .     .

Margaret Atwood (born 1939)

“This is a Photograph of Me”

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It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
.
then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
.
I am in the lake, in the centre
of the picture, just under the surface.
.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.
.
but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.)

ZP_Ugandan women wearing busuutisZP_Ugandan women wearing busuutis

Susan Kiguli (born 1969)

My Mother in Three Photographs”

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Her face looks out
flawless
her sexuality electric
in a mini dress and sheer satin stockings
the girls of the 1960s
beautiful beyond belief.
She is looking through the camera
like her space is here and beyond
enchanting and enchanted
by the times when dreams of freedom were young
the fortunes of Uganda
hot and sizzling.

.

My mother in the 1970s
More sombre but her skin
Still flawless
The abrasive years gentle on her youth.
Her body wrapped in a long nylon dress
stopping her ankles and
full sleeves touching her wrists
hooded sorrow in her posture
the flowing dress
is not because
she is a widow (which is by government action)
but it is a government decree.
Her magnificence and elegance
Seem to support the given name of the dress
Amin nvaako *.

.

My mother in the 1990s
neat short hair
luring in its intricate curls.
She wears a busuuti
a sign of the times
a return home, a finding of
uncertain peace
a maturing of a woman and nation
an endorsement of a recognition of the troubles
she has weathered
a sitting down to count her losses and blessings
and a handover of the future.

.

* Amin Nvaako means Amin let me be or Amin leave me alone

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ZP_Portrait of a man in North Carolina_1910s_photographer Hugh MangumZP_Portrait of a man in North Carolina_1910s_photographer Hugh Mangum

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Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

“Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year”

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October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen
I study my father’s embarrassed young man’s face.
Sheepish grin, he holds in one hand a string
of spiny yellow perch, in the other
a bottle of Carlsbad Beer.
.
In jeans and denim shirt, he leans
against the front fender of a 1934 Ford.
He would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity,
Wear his old hat cocked over his ear.
All his life my father wanted to be bold.
.
But the eyes give him away, and the hands
that limply offer the string of dead perch
and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you,
yet how can I say thank you, I who can’t hold my liquor either,
and don’t even know the places to fish?

.     .     .     .     .


Andre Bagoo beats Pan: Five Caribbean Poets inspired by T&T’s unique Drum

ZP_Afropan Steel Orchestra at the Pan Alive competition in Toronto, CanadaAfropan, Toronto’s longest-running steel orchestra, was founded in 1973.  They have won the “Panorama”/Pan Alive competition more than two dozen times over the years.  Currently under the leadership of Earl La Pierre, Jr., Afropan has mentored many young pannists and its player-membership includes a large number of female musicians.

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Today – Simcoe Day Holiday Monday – is the “last lap lime” for Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2013 – more commonly known as Caribana – after two weeks of special events that included a Junior Carnival, King and Queen Competition, Calypso Monarch Finals, The Grand Parade or “Jump Up” – plus Pan Alive.

Pan Alive brings together, through the Ontario Steelpan Association, a dozen or more homegrown steel-pan orchestras from Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario. These perform original compositions or arrangements before pan aficionados and a table of judges. The 2013 winners were Pan Fantasy, under the leadership of Wendy Jones (with arranger Al “Allos” Foster), playing SuperBlue’s “Fantastic Friday”.

Other competing orchestras at Pan Alive 2013 were:  Afropan, Pan Masters, Golden Harps, Panatics, Salah Steelpan Academy, Silhouettes, Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra, New Dimension, Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton, St.Jamestown Youth Centre, JK Vibrations and Metrotones.

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Our Guest Editor – Trinidadian poet, Andre Bagoo – here takes a look at poetry inspired by the steel-pan in the following selection he has put together for Zócalo Poets.

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STEEL-PAN is everywhere in the Caribbean, so much so that some people cannot help but define us by it. We’ve produced Nobel laureates in the arts, economics and sciences; great athletes; contributed so much all over the planet – yet ask the average foreigner about the Caribbean and chances are the first thing they will talk about is steel-pan. But the region has a complex relationship with pan. For us, pan music is not just fun. It is a ritual: an invocation of the pulse of history within our veins; a defiant assertion of individuality against larger global forces; an example of how one man’s trash can become treasure – a sublime subversion of power, economics and art. Trinidad and Tobago, inventor of the pan, prides itself in being the race that created what is said to be the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century. Yet, Trinidadian poets, and Caribbean poets generally, have a sophisticated relationship with the instrument. Its hard, silver and lyrical contours are not mere tourist ornament, but loaded symbol. Often, as in my poem ‘Carnival’ (http://www.bostonreview.net/bagoo-carnival), instead of being a symbol of pleasure, the pan becomes a hollow, opposite thing – creating an irony because of our pleasurable expectations.

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Roger Robinson’s ‘Texaco Oil Storage Tanks’ is ostensibly a poem about the materials used to make pans: oil barrels. But he finds the forces of history, power and economics inside them. While the oil storage tanks are large structures, the poem arguably evokes the images of smaller steel pans. Derek Walcott strikingly uses the image of the pan as a kind of psychogeographic tool in the opening of ‘Laventille’, whose first lines invite us to imagine that hill-top region as the arch of a pan. It’s also a device pregnant with meaning since Laventille is regarded as the birthplace of the instrument. In Kamau Brathwaithe’s great poem ‘Calypso’, pan makes an overt appearance but is, in fact, really all over the poem: its rhythm, its materials, its colour. I’ve included David Blackman’s poem ‘Bassman’ because of how far it veers from our romantic associations with that figure. And Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming’s ‘Steelpan in Miami’ is the final, fitting irony: pan exported, becoming a kind of prison of nostalgia, only made possible by migration away from the Caribbean basin.

Andre Bagoo

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Roger Robinson:  “Texaco Oil Storage Tanks”

(Trinidad, Pointe-à-Pierre, 1978)

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You silver gods, with viscous black innards,

skin of iron plates and bones of steel rivets,

.

your Cyclopean eye is a bright red star.

At each entrance stands an armed, khakied guard;

.

they check our passes, though we’ve known them for years,

for though we work here, we don’t belong.

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A new shift begins, our brown workboots trudge

and the unemployed beg and plead out front

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in full view, with burning sun on their shame,

but it’s not worse than their child’s hunger pains.

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Our fingernails are full of tar and dust:

you came for the oil, and left with our blood.

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Derek Walcott:  From “Laventille”

[for V.S. Naipaul]

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To find the Western Path

Through the Gates of Wrath

Blake

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It huddled there

steel tinkling its blue painted metal air,

tempered in violence, like Rio’s Favelas,

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with snaking, perilous streets whose edges fell as

its Episcopal turkey-buzzards fall

from its miraculous hilltop

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shrine,

down the impossible drop

to Belmont, Woodbrook, Maraval, St Clair

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that shrine

like peddlers’ tin trinkets in the sun.

From a harsh

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shower, its gutters growled and gargled wash

past the Youth Centre, past the water catchment,

a rigid children’s carousel of cement;

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We climbed where lank electric

lines and tension cables linked its raw brick

hovels like a complex feud,

.

where the inheritors of the middle passage stewed,

five to a room, still camped below their hatch,

breeding like felonies,

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whose lived revolve round prison, graveyard, church.

Below bent breadfruit trees

in the flat, coloured city, class

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escalated into structures still,

merchant, middleman, magistrate, knight. To go downhill

from here was to ascend.

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Kamau Brathwaite:  “Calypso”

from The Arrivants

1

The stone had skidded arc’d and bloomed into islands:

Cuba and San Domingo

Jamaica and Puerto Rico

Grenada Guadeloupe Bonaire

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curved stone hissed into reef

wave teeth fanged into clay

white splash flashed into spray

Bathsheba Montego Bay

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bloom of the arcing summers…

2

The islands roared into green plantations

ruled by silver sugar cane

sweat and profit

cutlass profit

islands ruled by sugar cane

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And of course it was a wonderful time

a profitable hospitable well-worth-you-time

when captains carried receipts for rices

letters spices wigs

opera glasses swaggering asses

debtors vices pigs

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O it was a wonderful time

an elegant benevolent redolent time–

and young Mrs. P.’s quick irrelevant crine

at four o’clock in the morning…

3

But what of black Sam

with the big splayed toes

and the shoe black shiny skin?

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He carries bucketfulls of water

’cause his Ma’s just had another daughter.

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And what of John with the European name

who went to school and dreamt of fame

his boss one day called him a fool

and the boss hadn’t even been to school…

4

Steel drum steel drum

hit the hot calypso dancing

hot rum hot rum

who goin’ stop this bacchanalling?

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For we glance the banjoy

dance the limbo

grow our crops by maljo

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have loose morals

gather corals

father out neighbour’s quarrels

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perhaps when they come

with their cameras and straw

hats: sacred pink tourists from the frozen Nawth

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we should get down to those

white beaches

where if we don’t wear breeches

it becomes an island dance

Some people doin’ well

while others are catchin’ hell

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o the boss gave our Johnny the sack

though we beg him please

please to take ‘im back

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so now the boy nigratin’ overseas…

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David Jackman:  “Bassman”

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Now yuh hearing a pain in yuh belly,

Who go provide now?

Who giving yuh room now?

After yuh throw way the costume and

Sleep in yuh vomit from pan fever

After yuh finish consume the liquor

Playing bass in mass

Playing ass in mass

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You go shadow extravaganza

trying to stretch out the fever

making a las lap

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trying to get back on the map.

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But the year face yuh

all yuh have to go by

is Sparrow Miss Mary until

yuh hear

the bass man

in yuh head

Shadow bass man eh boss man nah.

Carnival sickness is the bossman.

Shadow eating good, Sparrow eating good,

CDC eating good.

But who go provide now

Who go provide for the bass pain

in the belly? Who man tell me who?

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Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming:  “Steelpan in Miami”

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Last night I drove

over plain Miami

far in the Southwest

to Miami Pan Symphony

Panyard not under open skies

not bounded by mountain peaks

Cierro del Aripo and El Tucuche

but swallowed in the stomach

of a boxy warehouse

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Steelpan music cornered

muffled by dense

con crete pre fab walls

not ringing out over

Queen’s Park Savannah

not jingling like running water

in East Dry River

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Saw the girlchild beating

six bass pans

made one afternoon

not by Spree Simon the Hammer Man

but by Mike Kernahan

Trini in Miami

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Listened to the boychild

strum the cello pan

heard the manchild

the womanchild

on the chrome tenor pans

carrying the calypso tune

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Not to Maracas Bay

with coconut fronds

and six foot waves

but to Miami Beach

manmade fringed

with sea oats and coco plums

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And when the music died

a farewell so warm like Miami heat

a Trini voice bidding

“Drive safe eh”

an incantation from the streets of

Port-of-Spain

a familiar song so strange

in this multilingual

Caribbean city in the frying pan

handle of North America.

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Endnotes:

Roger Robinson’s ‘Texaco Oil Storage Tanks’ appears in his forthcoming collection, The Butterfly Hotel (Peepal Tree Press);   the extract from Derek Walcott’s ‘Laventille’ is taken from his Collected Poems (Faber and Faber, 1986);  Kamau Brathwaite’s ‘Calypso’ is a poem from his The Arrivants;  David Jackman’s ‘Bassman’ is scooped out of 100 Poems from Trinidad and Tobago (Edited by Ian Dieffenthaller & Anson Gonzalez);  and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming’s ‘Steelpan in Miami’ appears in her collection Curry Flavour (Peepal Tree Press, 2000).

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Andre Bagoo is a poet and journalist, born in 1983, whose first book of poems, Trick Vessels, was published by Shearsman Books (UK) in 2012.   His poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming at:   Almost Island; Boston Review; Cincinnati Review; Caribbean Review of Books; Caribbean Writer; Draconian Switch; Exit Strata PRINT! Vol. 2; Landscapes Journal, St Petersburg Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.   An e-chapbook, From the Undiscovered Country, a collaboration with the artist Luis Vasquez La Roche, was published at The Drunken Boat in 2013.

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